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Democracy: The Influence of Interest Groups on Political Decisions Through Lobbying

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The functions an interest group performs through lobbying politicians holds an intrinsic link with the democratic process of a country, and such a link allow for these groups to have a direct impact on both the policy makers and the public at large. Interest groups in essence will seek to play pressure politics to provide generalized benefits to their members – such as labour unions lobbying to raise worker wages. In this essay thus, I will first highlight how letting interest groups lobby is positive for democracy on grounds of representation, advocacy of public opinions and guidance to politicians and then analyse why it might be bad in terms of minority biased, gridlocks or poor electoral choices and analyse the two sides of the argument.

Firstly, Interest groups play a crucial role of influencing policy decisions by the mechanism of lobbying. It allows for the people within these groups to mediate between the public and those in elected positions but also simultaneously as Ryden argues ‘narrowing, focusing, defining the multiplicity of interests into discernible policy positions which ultimately shape and guide governance.” This is evident for instance in the case America where the AFL-CIO has a membership larger than any other lobbying organization, and effectively lobbies to ensure worker protection and advance legislation to ensure better minimum wage or social security for workers. Groups thus perform a proxy function whereby they act on behalf of the public, and in doing so ensure that they provide policy makers and politicians with comprehensive and nuanced signals about the preferences of citizens and thus play a pivotal secondary role as an effective channel of citizen sovereignty and control. In this regard Verba and Nie asserted that ‘if democracy is interpreted as a rule by the people then the more their part is in decisions, the more democracy there is.’

Robert Dahl specifically theorizes the notion of pluralism for this case, whereby he argues that politicians come to policy decisions based on opposing groups that organize and lobby the strongest, such that the ‘countervailing power’ guides them to policies that ensure democratic equilibrium. Dahl’s theory gives an accurate representation of cases where policy makers are confronted with plurality of interest groups, and groups that hold the strongest coalition and fight for the same policy goal are likely to be more successful. This case suggests that policies are therefore created such as to ensure that maximum utility is distributed to the people based on their level of want for the policy. Even if Dahl’s theory of pluralism is criticised for considering politicians to be more neutral then they are in reality and biased to groups with more resources or power, it is still the case as Thies and Porche highlight in their study that under pluralism groups such as agricultural farmers who would not be able to effectively organise for being not significant enough in power or less organised in the case of developed countries such as US, are still able to secure subsidies from the state because they are able to capture and pressure politicians from their districts who wish to be re-elected. It can thus be argued that interest groups manage to capture the intensity of a policy in a fragmented and divided public and accurately guide political parties about which policies will best deliver the most to the public.

Secondly, Berry stresses on the educative role of interest groups, and how the public is made of both policy problems and proposed solutions to them. This in essence is likely to create a more informed citizenry which allows for better democratic and electoral choices to be made. Evidence of this is given by Pierce et al who showed that information provided by environmental groups in both US and Canada proved to be the most important incentive for membership in them. The information provided by groups allows people insight into the reality of the status quo within the country such that people can view politicians with a degree of scepticism. However, this would be a sign of a mature democracy as political parties are otherwise likely to gain voters by simply over promising policies that are unattainable, but this method allows for people to accurately make decisions during the electoral process.

Lastly, interest groups can be seen as democratically valuable as they offer productive form of representation to the people who are not directly involved in political parties. Interest groups are therefore a viable substitute for people to engage in the democratic process when they may lose confidence in political parties and thus channel their concerns through this medium and allow for the democratic process to continue. In the absence of these groups people may otherwise feel increasingly alienated or disengaged to the point where they may use more unstable approaches such as revolting. Mair sums up by saying for the UK that people are ‘increasingly reluctant to commit themselves to parties whether in terms of identification or membership’ and the evidence of this is seen in how in the last 50 years Labour Party membership decreased from 7 million to 200,000 or under. Therefore, the experiences of people within these interest groups are both socially and politically relevant to the process of democracy, as fundamentally, democracy itself does call for the participation of the people.

However, critics of Interest groups argue otherwise. Olson prominently highlights this in Logic of Collective Action, where he argues that collective action benefits smaller groups disproportionately over larger ones as they are better able to organise, they hold more specialised and homogeneous interests versus larger groups who have diffused interests and more importantly, smaller groups can control free riders better so as to ensure everyone participates towards the groups success. His theory thus highlights how only a minority and that to a powerful minority who have the resources to organise better are likely to benefit and gain private goods at the cost of majority public interest groups who are unable to access goods they want, such that democracy is compromised by the rule of a minority. A prominent evidence in this regard would be the National Rifle Association in the US which has repeatedly blocked gun control legislation despite the fact that majority of Americans actually want stricter gun control laws. Lindblom in the same regard argues that businesses enjoy a disproportionate amount of influence on the policy- making process. This is perhaps best seen in the case where individual industries who hold specialised interests have had an inordinate amount of power as they are smaller versus the larger community of business as a whole which are diffused and less organised and thus as certain industries can easily have specific tax rulings and or tax loopholes in their favour but the business community at large has not been successful in decreasing progressive taxes or social welfare legislation that does not benefit them. Whereas this argument holds some credibility, Heike Klüver researches lobbying in European Union of 2696 interest groups on 56 policy issues and suggests how successful an interest group varied significantly with the salience of the issue and the policy in consideration, and thus size of the group played less of a dominant role as Olson might have stressed.

Furthermore, it is also argued by Richardson and Jordon that governments tend to act with a degree of preferential treatment and they seek to capture certain groups. This idea suggests that government don’t act as ‘neutral referees’ as Dahl may have suggested but rather there is a degree of bureaucratic approach, whereby politicians and policy makers seek to align and pass legislations based on sharing general goals with specific lobby groups. Thus, governments are seen as ‘group appeasers’ by Brittan, who suggests that they hold a narrow band of clients, and that important scarce resources of the nation are redistributed to these clients in order to ensure their support during electoral campaigns. In Pakistan, this is most prominently highlighted in the case of military establishment, whereby no government who wants to be re-elected can reasonably ignore or overlook the ideas or policies they want to be implemented. Whereas this may be true, at time the government association with certain groups or granting them ‘privileged’ access may only be in order to create a ‘level playing field’ as Lindblom puts forward with the case of neo pluralism such as when government’s will provide subsidies to environmental groups that represent a case of diffused public interest. This case for positive discrimination is also made by Lijphart  who refers to the idea of ‘consociationalism’ whereby state will show favouritism to certain groups based on ethnic and linguistic lines such as the British funding of religious schools. This argument is further propounded as Bilal suggests how elected representatives adopt policies that are consistent with the views of their main constituents and or prefer policy positions preferred by the median voter and thus even groups with diffused public interests are likely to be successful if they lobby to policy makers and politicians of their constituencies. In essence thus, whereas some groups do get privileged access in the process of lobbying which may seem to be against the notion of a partial democracy, however, this access may also prove to be helpful to the less strong groups who might otherwise have been blocked out entirely.

Lastly, critics of lobbying interest groups, particularly He argue how unrestrained public participation can be debilitating to the political and administrative system of the country. This notion puts forth the idea that forming consensus on public policy and effectively passing legislations on it becomes a more difficult process with conflicting and opposing interest groups such that a situation of ‘gridlock’ is more likely to be created. This is shown by Euchner  in the case of US whereby a gridlock was created due to the exponential rise in interest groups who spent millions of dollars pressing the government to stop, start or continue policies. However, Kriesi et al finds that open systems of democracies that allowed for collective action and lobbying by the means of direct democracy, lead to less pressure on the state and had a moderating effect that did not create instability in the government. On the other hand, the closure of systems, and difficulty in lobbying views, lead to radicalisation of the public. This is most prominent in the case of France with the rise of Gilet Jaunes movement opposing the rise in fuel tax which proved to be violent given the lack of access to politicians and policy makers to negotiate matters. This in contrast with the more open political structures such as that of Germany and Sweden have proven to be conducive grounds for policy negotiations and even an issue as contentious as the Anti-Nuclear Movement has been endorsed so as to increase safety regulations. This view is prominently upheld by Kuran in his ‘Threshold model’ which suggests that in more closed regimes where mechanisms of direct democracy are blocked the ‘revolutionary threshold’ of individuals is low such that they are likely to protest a lot more. Therefore, interest groups may be seen to create opposing policy positions, but ultimately, open channels of debate and negotiations allow for the democracy to function with more stability and lead to less of a radical environment.

To conclude, Interest groups pose a direct relationship with democracy and as has been highlighted above – the act of lobbying does lead to some threats to democracy mainly in terms of creating gridlock, radicalism arising from mob collective action or preferential where some minority interests are upheld over those of majority – however, the discussion conclusively shows that these threats can largely be ameliorated. It highlights how there is a stronger likelihood of a more informed citizenry that is more aware of accurate policy positions and solutions and that is properly represented by these interest groups. It further signifies how interest groups will guide policy makers to the right policies in majority of the cases to ensure democratic stability but also maximum utility to the public. Ultimately, with the right checks and balances by the government in the form of ensuring that there is no biased in favouring groups wrongly or that undue authority in terms of violence is not exerted by these groups is likely to ensure that lobbying by these groups will be largely good for democracies both in the developed and developing nations.

Bibliography:

  • Mancur Olson (1965): Logic of Collective Action
  • Thies, Cameron G, Porche, Schuyler (2007): The Political Economy of Agricultural Protection
  • Shepsle, Kenneth A, Bonchek, Mark S (1997): Analyzing Politics: rationality, behavior and institutions
  • Jordan A, G Maloney, William A (2007): Democracy and Interest Groups: enhancing participation?
  • Caramani, Daniele (2014): Comparative Politics
  • Charles E. Lindblom (1988): Democracy and Market Systems
  • Kluver, H (2011): The Contextual Nature of Lobbying: Explaining Lobbying Success in the European Union
  • Schmitter, Philippe C (1974): Still the Century of Corporatism?
  • Robert A Dahl (1979): Pluralism Revisited
  • Timur Kuran (1995): ‘The Inevitability of Future Revolutionary Surprises’
  • A. Lijphart (1968): Consociationalism and Power-Sharing in Europe: Arendt Lijphart’s theory of political accommodation
  • Joe Sommerlad (2018): The Independent: How was the NRA founded and how did a gun lobby become so influential in American politics?
  • Askari H (2000): ‘Military, state and society in Pakistan’

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Democracy: The Influence of Interest Groups on Political Decisions through Lobbying. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/democracy-the-influence-of-interest-groups-on-political-decisions-through-lobbying/
“Democracy: The Influence of Interest Groups on Political Decisions through Lobbying.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/democracy-the-influence-of-interest-groups-on-political-decisions-through-lobbying/
Democracy: The Influence of Interest Groups on Political Decisions through Lobbying. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/democracy-the-influence-of-interest-groups-on-political-decisions-through-lobbying/> [Accessed 27 Jun. 2022].
Democracy: The Influence of Interest Groups on Political Decisions through Lobbying [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 May 24 [cited 2022 Jun 27]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/democracy-the-influence-of-interest-groups-on-political-decisions-through-lobbying/
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